What Peter Harris did next: former PC chair takes a seat with another advisory body

By Stephen Easton

March 4, 2019

Peter Harris has joined the board of Infrastructure Australia, about six months after retiring from his final major government role as chair of the Productivity Commission and putting his shingle out as a self-employed consultant.

Businesswoman Samantha Hogg has also been appointed to the IA board alongside the former Victorian and Commonwealth department secretary. The agency’s recently appointed chair, Julieanne Alroe, said the pair would “add to the depth and breadth of sectoral knowledge” around the table.

Now all the independent advisory body needs is a new chief executive to permanently fill the space left by Philip Davies, who left the role midway through last year but not before issuing one final plea for governments to make sensible decisions on big infrastructure projects based on transparent cost-benefit analysis, along with an 11-point infrastructure decision-making checklist. The head of project advisory, Anne Chau, is currently acting CEO.

Both new board members have extensive experience in the transport and infrastructure fields, mainly from opposite sides of the public-private coin. Harris spent a couple of years in the airline business with Ansett before moving to the Victorian public service as director of public transport. He was secretary of the state Department of Sustainability and Environment from 2006 to 2009, before being hired by the Rudd government.

“Mr Harris is one of Australia’s most experienced public servants, serving as chairman of the Australian Productivity Commission between 2012 and 2018, and prior to that, as secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy from 2009 to 2012,” Alroe said today.

“Ms Hogg brings more than 25 years’ experience in executive management across the resources and infrastructure sectors. Formerly the chief financial officer of Transurban, she is also chair of Tasmanian Irrigation, non-executive director of Hydro Tasmania, MaxiTRANS Industries Limited and TasRail, and a member of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency board.”

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who made the appointments as Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, said Harris was picked partly on the basis of his experience in providing independent strategic advice to governments.

The trouble is not so much in providing the advice but in getting governments to listen to it, as both the PC and IA have found over the years. As Davies noted in a parting op-ed: “There are few more dangerous places to stand than between a politician and an infrastructure announcement.”

Two other IA board members have had their terms extended — Peter Corish and Gabrielle Trainor — while three have stepped down recently: Colin Duffield, John Ellice-Flint and Daniel Norton.

“Our retiring board members have had a remarkable impact on the Australian infrastructure sector, and I sincerely thank them for their leadership and contribution to Infrastructure Australia over the last four years,” said Alroe.

“All three joined Infrastructure Australia at a pivotal time in our organisation’s history. Together, they have helped shape landmark publications such as the 2015 Australian Infrastructure Audit, the 2016 Australian Infrastructure Plan, our annual Infrastructure Priority List and the infrastructure Reform Series.”

The agency has recently updated its infrastructure priority list and is gearing up to publish another Australian Infrastructure Audit later this year, followed by the next Australian Infrastructure Plan, which looks ahead 15 years in the hope of promoting long-term thinking by governments on both specific projects and potential reform.

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